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Modifier Phrases – The Essential Infomation

  1. Modifiers
    A modifier is a word or word group that generally describes a noun or verb in a sentence. In simple sentences and expressions, these modifiers may be either adjectives or adverbs. In complex expressions, phrases are used.

Study the following examples in which the modifiers are italicized for your understanding.

  • Complex social relations in real life are difficult to analyze.
  • Shocked by the incident, the woman could not utter a word.

In the first sentence, the words complex and social are describing the noun relations. Even the prepositional phrase ‘in real life’ is describing the same nounIn the second sentence, the phrase ‘shocked by the incident’ modifies the noun the woman.

  1. Participle Phrases
    We have learnt that –ing forms and –ed forms of verbs can be used as adjectives. Though both of them function as adjectives, they are different in meaning. The use of –ing adjectives implies that the nouns described are causing some action. When we use –ed adjectives, the nouns described are receiving some action.

Study the following examples.

  • The lecture by the eminent professor gave fascinating infomation. (The lecture causes fascination in us.)
  • The protected industries of the third-world are unlikely to face the free market competition. (The industries receive protection.)

The same principle applies even to modifier phrases starting with these verbal adjectives. In the first place, let me remind to you what a modifier phrase is.

Generally, the modifier and all the words that depend on it form a distinct group in the sentence called modifier phrase. The modifier phrase is usually separated from the rest of the sentence by a set of commas.

Study the following sentences and understand the use of above verbals.

  • Collected from reliable sources, the data give the real state of employment in the country. (The data have been collected.)
  • Arguing that establishment of uniform education system was the best way to train the children into responsible citizens, Horace Mann won the support of modernizers. (Mann was arguing for the establishment.)

I think you have understood the basic difference between these two adjectives from the above examples.

You should use these derived adjectives logically. 
This ability is surely tested in G-matic sentence correction. To reinforce this concept, let us take up some practice.


Verbal adjectives
Select the right verbal adjectives in the following sentences.

  1. ---------------- (Designing/designed) for an operational life of 60 years, the new nuclear power plants reduce substantially the cost of power production when compared to the traditional nuclear power plants whose operation life span is only 30 years.
  2. ------------- (Stretching/stretched) back up to 10,000 years and ----------------------(encompassing/encompassed) various regimes that promoted figurative painting, the art history of Cyprus is rich with incidents of interaction of human emotion and human aesthetic sense.
  3. Social responsibility of the companies --------------- (giving/given) more importance than the profit motive, many companies are now concentrating on the development of environmentally friendly products.
  4. ------------ (Storing/stored) for use as high energy fuels, lipids serve a variety of functions in the cells and are important constituents of cell membranes.
  5. Reason, often --------- (contrasting/contrasted) with habit or intuition and --------- (requiring/required) conscious evaluation of factors, is the -------- (building/built) block of human rationality.


  1. Designed (the nuclear power plants are designed, not designing.)
  2. Stretching and encompassing. (The art history is not receiving the action of stretching or encompassing. It is causing the action and thus, both must be ing adjectives.)
  3. Given. (Social responsibility is not giving, but given importance. Thus, we need to use ed-adjective in this absolute phrase.)
  4. Stored (the lipid are stored for use as high energy fuels. Thus, third form is correct.)
  5. Contrasted and requiring. (The reason is contrasted with intuition and requires conscious evaluation. The sentence seems with elements which are not parallel. But you should understand that the given forms are the forms correctly required. In fact, both of them are actually adjectives and they are parallel.) “building” is required for the third blank.

  1. The Modifiers and Punctuation
    Generally punctuation plays an important role in the sense given by sentences with modifier phrases.
    1. Modifier phrases at the beginning of the sentence are separated from the rest of the sentence using a comma.
  • Stretching 31 km from Pemberton Ice Field to the Squamish River, the Mount Cayley Volcanic field is a remote volcanic zone in Canada.
  1. The modifier phrase or clause, when present in the middle or at the end, the use of comma changes the meaning.

Study the following to understand this concept.

  • I talked to the students coming out of the class. (= … to the students who were coming out of the class.)
  • I talked to the students, coming out of the class. (= … while I was coming out of the class.)

In the second sentence, the modifier phrase after comma gets connected to the subject and thus, gives the sense that it was I who was coming out the class.

Some argue that the second instance may modify either the preceding noun or the subject, resulting in ambiguity. Even GMAT makers seem to believe so!

  1. If a modifier phrase presents defining infomation, a comma is not used. If it presents non-essential descriptive infomation, a comma is needed

Study the following examples.

  • The students qualified in the test will be called for next round of selection. (= only those students….)
    The infomation present in the qualifying phrase defines which students will be called for the next round. This is defining infomation and thus, the modifier clause is not separated by a comma.
  • Eratosthenes, having accepted the spherical nature of earth, made a very good estimate of the diameter of the earth in third century BC.
    The modifier phrase having… earth is adding additional descriptive infomation, but not essential infomation. Thus, we have used commas in this sentence.
  • The John who is tall is a good soccer player. (There are many Johns and I am taking about a specific John. As relative clause is giving defining infomation, no comma is required. Note the obvious presence of article the before the proper noun.)
  • John, who is very tall, can make a good basketball player. (Here, the description is meant and thus commas are used before and after the modifier (relative) clause.)

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